- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Pediatricians and wheelchair providers warned Oklahoma leaders who oversee Medicaid on Tuesday that cuts to reimbursement rates could force them to stop providing services to some of the state’s neediest citizens.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board unanimously approved the 7.75 percent provider rate cut during a special meeting in Oklahoma City as it grapples with a $104 million hole in its budget for the new fiscal year. The reduced provider rate and other program cuts are in addition to changes approved last week to increase copays for Medicaid participants and things such as limiting payments for glasses for children, and hospital readmissions.

The change could force doctors in semi-rural communities such as Enid to stop accepting Medicaid patients, said Dr. Eve Switzer, who works with two other pediatricians at her clinic, where Medicaid patients make up 60 percent of their practice.

“When you start cutting rates, we have to start cutting patients,” Switzer told the board. “It’s just basic economics.”

Although the Legislature this year used a series of budget maneuvers to preserve the Health Care Authority’s $950 million state budget for the current fiscal year, the agency still has a shortfall because of an increase in Medicaid participants, a $13 million decrease in tobacco tax revenue and a reduction in the rate for federal matching funds. The reduction in federal funds is, ironically, the result of Oklahoma’s economy improving.

There are currently about 800,000 Oklahomans enrolled in Medicaid, which is called Soonercare. Of those, 65 percent are children and about 17 percent are blind or disabled adults.

Children qualify if household income is 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $44,000 annually for a family of four. A single pregnant woman can qualify with an income of about $15,516. Non-pregnant, non-disabled adults would have to earn below $8,200 per year to be eligible.

Aracely Baeza, a 23-year-old Oklahoma City woman with a rare form of muscular dystrophy who needs a motorized wheelchair, told the board she fears what may happen if she can’t get her wheelchair repaired. When the chair’s motor went out recently, she had to use a manually operated one for about three days.

“I don’t have the strength to push myself,” she said. “I felt very vulnerable. I was at the mercy of others.”

Wheelchair provider Numotion, which employs about 15 workers at locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, will consider dropping Medicaid customers, who make up about 30 percent of its business, said company executive Michele Longo.

“We won’t be able to stay in business providing Medicaid equipment,” Longo said.

State Rep. Doug Cox, an emergency room physician from Grove, said his colleagues in the Republican-controlled Legislature likely will be hearing from physicians and other providers in their communities about the serious impact of the cuts.

“Doctors and pharmacists in these communities are busy practicing medicine and pharmacy,” said Cox, a Republican. “A lot of them don’t realize that these cuts are coming.

“I look at the shock and outcry to become pretty loud when they realize what’s coming down the pike.”

Board Chairman Ed McFall said the vote was one of the most difficult he’s had to make in his 21 years on the panel, but he said the budget approved by the Legislature left them no options.

“We don’t like making these cuts,” McFall said. “These are the most draconian cuts we’ve ever made since I’ve been with this agency.”


Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy



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